New Jersey couple at Virginia campground killed by tornado

CAPE CHARLES, Va. — Two New Jersey residents were killed and three dozen other people were injured and transported to area hospitals Thursday morning after an estimated EF-1 tornado struck at a campground in Virginia.

Corrine Gellar, a Virginia State Police spokeswoman, said Lord Balatbat and his wife, Lolabeth Ortega, both 38 of Jersey City, N.J., were killed when a tree fell on their tent.

“Their 13-year-old son was in a neighboring tent, a tree fell on that tent, he was one of three transported to Kings Daughters hospital, he has life-threatening injuries,” said Geller.

CBS News reporter Tony Aiello said that the sky turned black and cellphones pinged with emergency messages at around 9 a.m.  Moments later, a fierce storm tore through the Cherrystone Family Camping & RV Resort, snapping dozens of trees and flipping over RVs, with injuries ranging from cuts to broken bones inflicted on about 36 people.

The National Weather Service had issued a tornado warning for the area around 9 a.m.

“All hell broke loose,” said Joe Colony, who has been visiting the Chesapeake Bay campground for the last 30 years. “We got an emergency message on a cellphone and within 30 seconds, the thing hit and it blew down 40, 50 trees in the park.”

About 1,300 people were at the campground, getting ready for a summer day of swimming pools, mini-golf, pier fishing and other activities at the 300-acre resort.

Winds estimated between 85 and 100 miles an hour slammed the campground on Delmarva Peninsula — about a six-hour drive south of New York City, Aiello reported.

“So I’m in my camper right now. Something crazy is going on outside!” said a young woman who recorded the ordeal.

The sound of hail pounding on her shelter could not drown out the panic in her voice, Aiello reported.

“It’s hailing and my awning, and my – there’s a tree down, fell on that guy’s camper. Oh my God!” she shouts as the storm made its way through the campground.

Witnesses said the tornado came off the Chesapeake Bay, cut across the campground, and then turned and doubled back across the property, Aiello reported.

“The tornado actually came in off the bay – the southwest corner of the campground — proceeded northeast through and made a ‘V’ heading southeast back through the campground,” Geller confirmed during a news conference.

Joe Micucci said he and his wife couldn’t escape in their car because hail was the size of softballs. The couple rode out the storm in their camper.

“We saw at least five (campers) that were flipped over. One was completely gone and only had its wheels left,” said Micucci, of Washington Township, New Jersey.

Peter Glagola, spokesman for Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital, said the hospital was treating more than two dozen patients as of Thursday afternoon. Glagola said more patients were expected to be brought to the hospital.

Coast Guard spokesman Petty Officer 3rd Class David Weydert said crews also were responding to reports of boats overturned in the water in the area and at least three people were pulled from the water.

Micucci and others were evacuated from the campground to a nearby high school. He said he was unsure when he could go back and survey the damage.

More than 150 Cherrystone campers who lost their shelter were taken by bus to nearby Northampton High School, Geller said.

The 50-year-old campground has 725 sites including cottages, camping cabins and rental trailers in addition to providing camping for tents and recreational vehicles. It sits 300 acres along the Chesapeake about 15 miles from the southern tip of the Eastern Shore that divides the bay from the Atlantic Ocean.

The EF-1 tornado rating indicates wind speeds of 86 to 110 mph on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.



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